In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day thirty.
Tuesday, 23 February
Left Edfou at 5 in the morning for Assouan, there by 4. Saw the Prince of Wales steamers and the one the Viceroy had conveyed the Prince in. He and his party had left that morning in dahabeahs for the 2nd Cataract, so we have missed them again – count Bismark was there – we started off at once across the deep sand for the bazaars; hardly repaid one. On the return most gorgeous sunset – sands deep gold and mountain deep violet-red – a colouring I had not seen before – suppose tropical in tint. Dinner at 7.
Egyptian boat above the First Cataract by Oswald Walters Brierly, 24th February 1869
Miss Riggs may have missed the Prince but some of his party remained in Aswan, including the scathing journalist William Howard Russell. “Cook’s tourists have also arrived!” he wrote. “Their steamers are just below us in the stream. The tourists are all over the place. Some are bathing off the banks; others, with eccentric head-dresses, are toiling through the deep sand. They are just beaten by a head in the race! Another day, and the Prince and Princess would have been at their mercy.”
The real issue here was not concern for the privacy of the Prince and Princess, but snobbery. Russell could not bear the thought that the Nile had to be shared with fellow countrymen (and women) of a lower status. “It is a nuisance to the ordinary traveller to have his peace broken,” he wrote, although by “ordinary” he clearly meant upper class. Cook aimed to democratize Nile tourism and in years to come, among a certain class of people, he would be despised for it.
In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day twenty-one.
Sunday, 14 February
Stopped at Assiout; went with the Newmans to Mission School kept by Mr. and Mrs. Hogg, a theological master – a Scotch family – 2 children. Most difficult to find the town, some distance from the shore; our donkeys wound through street after street. When we arrived the morning service was going on – although in Arabic we remained and had a good survey of the attentive hearers. After service we went up to their private rooms and had an interesting chat. The Prince and Princess had been in these schools the Friday before. Returned to steamer by 1 o’clock. Miss Crichton and others had made the ascent of a hill for the view – they came back very hot and tired. In the evening we stopped the night at Nachara.
The Prince of Wales and party in Egypt in February 1869
I skipped day twenty, Saturday 13th, a day on which Miss Riggs and companions visited the cave-tombs of Beni Hassan. What’s interesting on this day, the 14th, is not Miss Riggs determination to visit every missionary school on the Nile, but the mention of the ‘Prince and Princess’. The prince was Albert, Prince of Wales, eldest son of Queen Victoria and heir apparent to the British throne. He was in Egypt on a second honeymoon with his wife Alexandra – also expediently making himself absent from England at a time when his name was being linked to a high-profile adultery scandal. The royals had departed Cairo four days ahead of Miss Riggs’s party in a fleet of five blue and gold steamers, plus tender, and a towed dahabiya that served as the royal couple’s private sleeping quarters. Each steamer was decorated with scenes depicting incidents from the life of Antony and Cleopatra, and each towed a barge of ‘necessities and luxuries’, which between them included 3,000 bottles of champagne and 4,000 of claret, not to mention sherry, ale and liqueurs of all sorts. They had horses, a white donkey and four French chefs, plus a “stuffer” to deal with all the animals the prince was going to shoot.